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Welcome to my second hardware review. This review is a sequel review, but not a story-continuing sequel like  Empire Strikes Back or The Two Towers. This is one of those for the money sequels that are padded out with lots of flashback footage to the original film, like The Hills Have Eyes: Part 2. I am Wes Craven, and I don't have many new or creative ideas to bring to the table.

Think of this as an update to my previous HELIOS HVD2085 review, as this player, the HELIOS H4000 is an updated version of that previous player. I'm actually going to end up copy/pasting some of my comments on the previous model. But I must mention from the top, that this player is an improvement on that older model, and if you don't already own an HD upscaling, region-free player, you may find yourself compelled to read on.

Contents


In the box you will find:
• One HELIOS H4000 HD Upscaling DVD player
• One Manual (a little more in-depth than the one found with the HELIOS HVD2085)
• One Audio/ Visual Connector
• One Power Cable (attached to the unit, non-removable)
• One Remote Control (this time NeoDigits has supplied some batteries)
• One 5-foot HDMI Cable

Aesthetics


I called the older model 'cute', and this model is no less adorable, though it does look as though it means business. It's smaller, but it'd probably beat the old system up and give it a wedgy if given the chance. This time the entire player is black, as is the remote, which otherwise looks like the old one. Rather than metal, the player's shell is a very sturdy plastic. I didn't sit on it, but imagine it could support my weight.

Ergonomics


The player buttons are this time located on the top of the machine rather than the face. I'm not use to it yet, but this seems like a good call, and makes the player easy to access in the dark. The only problem is that the buttons are a bit too sensitive and a single over-long pressing can turn the player ON and OFF simultaneously. In what my self centered mind can only see as a direct response to my old system review, the HELIOS H4000 does turn on when the eject button is pressed, and it turns on very quickly. The HVD2085's power button had to be depressed to get anything done, and started up pretty slowly. The problem here, however, is that the eject button only turns the machine on, it doesn't eject the tray, meaning eject will have to be pressed a second time. Sometimes pressing eject to long will very quickly open and close the drawer, so if you purchase this unit be patient.

Since the words of my old review seem to have been poured over by the technical folks over at NeoDigits, I'm happy to announce that the display on the new player is a vast improvement, and much easier to read from the comfort of my couch. On a personal note, I'd like to add that the digit's colour matches that of my new sound system. As an OCD case, I really appreciate this. The only negative remark I can make in this field is that perhaps the display is a touch too bright, as it never quite leaves my field of vision in a darkened room. I know, I know, I'm looking the gift horse in the mouth here, but it's God's honest truth.

Helios Labs HELIOS H4000
Before


Helios Labs HELIOS H4000
After


I'm not too fond of the old player's remote, but have gotten use to it (I've used it as my primary player since the review). In what, again, I'm sure is a direct response to my complaints (I do wield some massive power in the industry after all), the remote has been reworked. The button placement is better now, I like having the play/pause/stop/FF/RWD buttons higher on the device, but it appears in a direct comparison that NeoDigits has simply reassigned the buttons from the old design. I think the general shape of these more important buttons was better with the old model, as I like my play buttons really big. But the buttons still glow in the dark, and are still supple and responsive.

Helios Labs HELIOS H4000
Before


Helios Labs HELIOS H4000
After



Picture Quality


On my Sony Wega a direct comparison reveals little improvement in picture quality, but the specs will tell you that readers with 1080p capabilities should be better off. I only noticed a slight decrease in blocking in the H4000's favour. Just because the picture quality isn't measurably better doesn't mean to say it isn't good. It still looks great. I ran tests with a variety of discs, from the straight from digital Monster House, to some "seen better days" titles like 3 Dev Adam. The HD upscaling process still does nothing for non-anamorphic, ugly titles, but is the closest you'll get to true HD with your more well produced DVDs.

The overall image brightness (which in this new model can be altered through the player, not just the TV) is the most obvious improvement from non-upscaling players. The process also cuts down on digital blocking and low-level noise a bit, but DVDs with a lot of ailments don't look any better. Rather, a mangled and blocky DVD will simply appear brighter and cleaner, but no less lumpy. Even if a disc is anamorphically enhanced, sometimes the lower 480p setting is advisable, but usually only in the case of really ugly transfers (I'm looking at Anchor Bay UK's Masters of Horror releases here).

As with the previous player, I've used the 720p mode rather than the 1080i mode in most cases. Titles I know are interlaced benefit from the interlaced mode a bit, but really not enough for the average naked human eye to tell. If I ever save enough money to get a 1080p set, I'll update this review, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen any time soon. I'm not sure if I believe the difference between 720p and 1080p would be all that obvious on an upscaling player, so I'll just have to take the word of those able to experiment with the settings.

PAL to NTSC still looks great as well, removing the stubborn aliasing that some multi-platform players struggle with. Wolf Creek is probably the finest looking PAL DVD in my collection, and I really couldn't at any time tell I was watching a non-NTSC disc. Some of my more lowly horror discs suffered from a hair of blurriness, but nothing unmanageable. I cannot speak for the NTSC to PAL conversion, as my television is not multi-platform, but image similar results are reached.

Helios Labs HELIOS H4000
I apologize when I say my television does not include a HDMI plug. I could've sworn it did, but apparently my model is a little out-dated. There have been some improvements made in the HDMI field here, according to the specs, but I was only able to utilize an RGB component plug in for this review. Any readers craving a more in depth review should feel free to send me the money I require to buy a newer set. Every dollar counts.

Audio


I still don't own any DVD Audio titles, but I have updated my sound system since my review of the HVD2085. This system is, from what my ears can tell, identical, meaning movies sound great. I tested the sound specifically using my usual standbys, Saving Private Ryan and Return of the King. There was no delay or distortion noted on either disc. The H4000 has audio tweaking abilities beyond that of the HVD2085, and comes with its own volume control, though I'm sure most home theater owners will prefer controlling their sound systems over the player.

After pausing or stopping, and then restarting a disc, lip-sync is occasionally off. This was annoying, but likely just a bug in this early release model. The problem is remedied every time by hitting Stop (not Pause, the lesson being that the Stop button is better than the Pause button, apparently), then Play.

Features


Like the previous model, this is an out-of-the-box region free player, with NTSC and PAL capabilities. Any readers still lacking a region free player (mostly US readers I'm guessing) might want to take notice as this player requires no warranty breaking tweaks to play foreign DVDs. The video out put is suppose to be the player's biggest selling point, but for me it's the region freeness at an affordable price without hacking that makes the unit worth owning. I will say that going from R1 to R2 in one sitting will cause the player to pause a bit, but this may be due to the NTSC to PAL changeover.

Another of the meager complaints I had about the HVD2085 was its lack of screen saver and its bright white menu screen. Both these ailments have been cured this time around. The menu is now a very dark blue, and a black screen featuring a moving Helios logo will boot up when any title is left paused or stopped too long. The ability the change the wait time for the screen saver to kick in might be a nice addition next time. Needless to say, these features will save some televisions from burn in, and other from burning out their pricy projection lamps.

Helios Labs HELIOS H4000
The screen saver, unfortunately, leads to the player's one big problem (or at least the only remarkable one I could find). When utilizing the 'play all' function on any disc, whether it is used to watch several episodes of a TV series or a series of featurettes, without reverting back to the main menu in between, the screen saver can erase this function from memory. In other words, if you pause a 'play-all' session to use the bathroom and come back to a screen saver pushing play will restart the current section in the series where you stopped, but when that section is over, you will be reverted back to the main menu as if the 'play-all' function hadn't been utilized.

The latest version of the Firmware (V6, I'm way behind on my review here) has actually done away with the screensaver. The problems actually don't bother me enough to kill the screensaver all together, but it's good to know that Helios Labs Technology Ltd. is working on the problem.

The other big update this time around as far as features is the players ability to play MPEG4 (DivX, Xvid, MPEG1, MPEG2 and MPEG4) discs. I've gotten some old AVI discs I had sitting around the house to play, and the quality is pretty top notch considering the source. This is a great inclusion, though obviously benefiting those naughty people who download pirated video, it also provides a service for us law-abiding citizens as well. The menu system is easy to understand (assuming one has labeled his or her files well in the burning process), but like the rest of the player's menus not all that spectacular to look at.

The player can play virtually any kind of CD or DVD in the world thanks to the MPEG4 update, making it a nice little thing to keep around even after the HD revolution has come full force. The only discs I had trouble playing were the one's I burned from files off my personal computer, which is a fault of my computer's burning software, not the player's compatibility.

Helios Labs HELIOS H4000
The simple to set and use 'smart play' option, which lets one skip directly to the feature presentation makes a triumphant return here, and the feature works with almost every DVD I tried. Only some of the bigger studio releases beat the option on occasion. Presetting Audio and Subtitles is also an option. Mine is set to 'English' for Audio, and 'None' for Subtitles, which covers the instant start of about 75% of the discs I stick in the player.

Overall


We've still got a few problems here and there, all of which are being worked on by the Helios Labs (formally NeoDigits) staff. I hope the next generation continues along these lines of improvement. The player is a great value for the price, and performs very well, the biggest hurdle we've got here are the bugs, the look of the menus and remote. If you own the older model and aren't too interested in the component upgrades, the screen saver (which is still buggy), or the MPEG4 playability, stick with what you've got. If you're looking for an affordable upgrading player with multi regional capabilities, then look no further.


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